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I can't believe that as many times as I've visited Napa, I haven't been to Ad Hoc. This is Thomas Keller's "take what we serve," family-style restaurant in Yountville, just down the Street from The French Laundry (pssst, that link will magically work in the next couple of months). At first glance, Ad Hoc seems frightfully expensive for what you get, but it isn't at all, and in fact, I can't wait to go back. There's a different, family-style, set menu served each night of the week, and since we went on a Monday, here was ours (there's no difference going on a Monday than any other night, in terms of price, quantity, or quality - at least, none that I know of): <--- This is $52 per person, which may seem expensive, but I'm going to try and explain why it's a very good value. People were grumbling about Eric Ziebold's "Whole Chicken" for $56, even though that was for *two people* - well, ad hoc's menu for two people is $104, and you're getting "Fried Chicken," so how am I possibly going to explain this? Very easily. It's been well-established by now that Ziebold's chicken at $56 is a ridiculous bargain, considering what you get with it, and this set menu, at $52 per person, is also a very good deal (I won't go so far as to call it a "ridiculous bargain") - considering that it's 100% of the food that you'll be eating on this evening - and every single thing is fantastic! Or at least it was for us. Wine, of course, is extra, but ad hoc's wine prices are fair, and their wine list is expertly chosen - with this set meal, you have to go (or "you're best-off going") with a Rosé, since a Rosé is sort-of half-way between a red and a white, and will overlap both white courses and red courses - remember your Venn Diagrams from Geometry? <--- Except that the overlap is much greater than this picture shows. So, they naturally had a couple of Rosés to choose from, and our request for our server was simple: Bring us the palest, driest Rosé from France, preferably from the Southeast of France, that you have. He knew instantly which wine to pick, and that brings up another point: Our server knew every ingredient in every dish that we had on this evening, and also knew the wine list back-and-forth. Thomas Keller trains his staff very well, and you just don't see this kind of knowledge in a lot of restaurants - this is worth a lot to the diner, even though it may be something that gets overlooked. Our Grenache Gris: a 2015 Domaine de Figueirasse ($40) from the Languedoc region of France. "Do you know if this wine was bled off the top of the vat?" I asked, and he said, "No, its gently pressed.." How many servers are even going to know what "vin saignée" is? Bled Rosé can be fine, but pressed Rosé is just a better wine making method - I could write a 5,000-word thesis on why this is so, but it just is. Oenophiles are reading this right now, nodding their heads, and admiring our server - every single one of them. This is an all-organic winery that was founded in 1905, and this is the wine you should be getting here with anything that isn't a dark meat, such as beef or lamb - you'll be happy, I promise! Our meal began with a bread course (house-made bread (don't forget, Keller's bakery is essentially right next door) with the same, wonderfully creamy, salted butter you get at Bouchon. With it, came a perfectly dressed County Line Chicory Salad with eggs mimosa, pickled red onions, French Laundry garden radishes, and creamy garlic dressing - and when I say "perfectly dressed," I mean that this salad could not have been dressed any better, and contained exactly the correct amount of dressing. We took our time noshing on our salad, and even though the restaurant was completely full, we didn't feel rushed in any way. Only when we were finished, and not a moment before, were the plates cleared, and within moments the main course and two sides arrived, and oh did they look good - and they were every bit as good as they looked. This is some of the best Buttermilk Fried Chicken I've ever eaten, and ironically, about the only better fried chicken I've had was in the next county over, but we'll get to that shortly. The batter is dredged in buttermilk, and the chicken is served with Cauliflower Gratin and Mushroom & Carrot Ragout. I strongly suspect my dining companion will have more to say about these two side orders. Don't let the picture of the chicken fool you - this was a huge amount of fried chicken, and we had some to take home for lunch the next day - you'll have leftovers from this meal unless you play Offensive Tackle for the 49ers. And there's still more to come. One of the only truly generous cheese courses I've encountered in quite awhile (aren't you sick of getting little slivers of cheese?) By the way, here's a dirty little secret: Many retailers mark up their cheeses by (be sitting down when you read this) 100%. Cheese is not that expensive at the wholesale level - when you see cheese that's $20 and $30 a pound, don't blame the cheesemakers, and don't blame the wholesalers; blame the retailers. Why do you think you see so many Groupon offers from cheese retailers, advertising 50% off their cheese? Do you think it's because they want to lose money? Let that one sink in for awhile, and store it in your long-term memory. Back to the meal: *Look* at this amazing Andante Dairy's Tomme Dolce, served with the most *amazing* Corn Pone and House-Made Mixed Berry Jam! You're *still* not finished, because there's a dessert course - in our case, two jars of Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crumble and Whipped Chantilly, one of which is pictured here, turned over after being half-eaten - we thought coffee would hit the spot, so we got a French Press of Decaf Coffee with our dessert ($5 total, and worth it). Well, I don't know if I've convinced you that this dinner is worth $104 for two people (not including extras), but for my palate and budget, it was worth it and then some. Ad Hoc is a wonderful restaurant, that has many of the niceties that a Thomas Keller institution can provide - and don't forget, he spends an *awful* lot of time in Yountville, which is essentially a one-street town. Ad Hoc is wonderful, and worth a trip from San Francisco - *absolutely* worth a trip if you're in Napa or Sonoma counties to begin with.
Last month my wife and I went on a whirlwind eating adventure in the Napa Valley, that included everything from an In-and-Out Burger to the French Laundry. Last year my wife and I visited Per Se and had a amazing dinner that we believed could never be topped. Well it looks like Thomas exceeded himself with our French Laundry meal. Part of this may have to do with the whole Yountville setting. One of the most beautiful small towns I have ever seen full of flowers and smiles,and street sweepers who drive up and down the road with nothing to sweep. As we entered the restaurant we were greeted by Jen and Larry who treated us like long loss friends. We were escorted to our table in the downstairs dining room and I was kind of surprised by how small and cozy it was. It does not have the grandeur of Per Se, but yet I felt that it suited my style more. I have no doubt that Thomas wishes nothing to distract one from the cuisine. I also fell in love with the china,as each course was presented on a different style plate. Also, all the truffles were grated table side,and had an amazing flavor and aroma for this time of the year. Let me start with the menu and comments below: Warm Gruyere Gougeres Cornet of Marinate Salmon with Red Onion Creme Fraiche Wonderful way of starting. What can I say!! SOUP Puree of Avocado with Sweet Peppers (wife) Puree of Carrot with Medjool Date (me) Cool, Refreshing, and the pure strained essence of what they are. CAVIAR Oysters and Pearls (me) Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Beau Soleil Oysters and Russian Sevruga Caviar, Cauliflower Panna Cotta (wife) with Beau Soleil Oyster glaze and Russian Sevruga caviar Oysters and Pearls is a classic dish that is brilliant. This was the first time tasting the Cauliflower Panna Cotta,and it was delicious. TRUFFLES White Truffle Oil-Infused Custard with a Ragout of Black Perigord Truffles (wife) Eggs Perigourdine, Poached Arcuna Hen Egg with Thomas English Muffin, sauce Hollandaise and Black Perigord Truffles (me) SALAD Salad of Hawiian Hearts of Palm, Pearl Onions and Mint Oil (wife) Warm Salad of Roasted Cepe and Chanterelle Mushrooms (me) My wife loved the Hearts of Palm Salad,and I was in mushroom heaven. PASTA Hand-Cut Tagliantelle with Black Perigord Truffles (wife) Carnaroli Risotto Biologico with Grated Black Truffles and Truffle Cream (me) Two wonderful courses,and hard to pick which one I enjoyed more. Batali should take lessons from Keller as far as I am concerned. The Tagliatelle was presented in a flying-nun hat type bowl. The Risotto was creamy with a slight bite to the rice;executed perfectly. FISH Salt Encrusted Bronzino, with Spanish Capers,Fennel and San Marzano Tomato (for two) Presented to the table whole in a salt crust and taken to the kitchen to be plated. One of our favorites of the night LOBSTER Maine Lobster Tail Pochée Sous Vide (me) Caramelized Fennel Bulb, Crystallized Fennel Chip,Sweet Peppers, and Sauce Noilly Prat Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster, Silver Queen Corn Pudding and Summer Truffles (wife) My god just the thought of this lobster gives me a tingle. Both surpassed my lobster at Per Se by being more flavorful and tender. The Fennel chip can replace the potato chip,and the sauce Noilly Prat was to die for. FOIE GRAS Saute of Moulard Duck Foie Gras, Cream of Arrowleaf Spinach, Oeuf De Caille Poche Au Vinaigre De Champagne Frisee Lettuce and Applewood Smoked Bacon Gastrique (wife) Moulard Duck Foie Gras En Terrine, Masomoto Family Farm Peach Jelly, Pickled Peaches, Peach Melba, Marinated Red Onion, Melba Toast and Crisped Carolina Rice (me) I had the Peach Melba at Per Se, and I'm curious if this dish may have been invented by Cory Lee as he is now at the French Laundry. MEAT Rillete of Rabbit, Ginger Glazed Santa Rosa Plums and Melted Endive (wife) Pork and Beans All Day Braised Hobb's Shore Pork Belly, Cassoulet of Early Summer Pole Beans and Whole Grain Mustard (me) The rabbit was moist and succulent, and just wonderfully accented with the plums. I bet the beans were supplied by our own Rancho_Gordo that came with the pork belly. I made a mental note to order some in the future. MEAT Snake River Farm Calotte De Boeuf Grillee, Roasted Cepe Mushrooms, Braised Cipollini Onions, Crispy Bone Marrow Scallion Salad an Sauce Bordelaise (for two) My god, being in the restaurant business I must have thrown away hundreds if not thousands of these caps. Surely I will pay for it one day as I meet my keeper. This dish was also presented whole,and plated in the kitchen. CHEESE Abbaye De Belloc, Roasted Heirloom Beets, Beet Vinaigrette and Frisee Lettuce (me) Adante Dairy Acapella with figs and Fifty Year Old Balsamic Vinegar (wife) Thomas has been criticized over his cheese course by some in the past but I have no complaints as they were both delicious. ICE CREAM Thyme Ice Cream with Warm Olive Oil (me) Olive Oil Ice Cream with Valhrona Chocolate (wife) The Thyme Ice Cream was presented with a thin chocolate shell covering the bowl, in which the warm olive oil was poured over to melt. Both were smooth and satisfying!! SORBET Hayden Mango Sorbet, Yuzu Scented Genoise,Goma Nougatine and Black Sesame Coulis (me) Napa Valley Red Verjus Sorbet, Szechaun Pepper Gelee, Raisin Puree, White Verjus Emulsion and Vanilla Marinated Muscat Grape (wife) By this time we were really full,and had been at the table over five hours. But these sorbet's were wonderfully refreshing,and added a much needed wake up call for our palate. I especially enjoyed the Verjus Sorbet. DESSERT Coffee and Donuts (both) Cappucino semi-fredo with cinnamon-sugared donuts (for two) I have been reading about this signature dessert for years,and it exceeded my expectations in every way. As full as I was I could of ate a half a dozen. CHOCOLATE Valrhona Bitter Chocolate Souffle Dry Apricot Marmelade and Mascarpone Sorbet (me) Tentation Au Chocolat Noisette Et Lait, Milk Chocolate Cremeux,Hazelnut Streusel with Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts (wife) At this point Larry said to us, "its chocolate" and not a living thing. You don't have to finish it if you don't want to. We struggled but did, as it was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal. Mignardises to Go For the wine lovers reading this I apologize as I did not receive a print out of the wines served. We had a pairing which had to be eight to ten different wines,which started with champagne. A few comments on the service: What can I say about Larry the maitre d'. He is a man at the top of his game and just as much part of the French Laundry experience as the cuisine itself. Our main server's name escapes me as I believe it may have been Joe but he could not have been more professional,and had a personality so warm that one would think we known each other for years. Another young server named Jeremy I believe, was fantastic. After spending years in the restaurant business I would have paid this young man half my own salary to keep him in any restaurant I managed. He is that much of a asset to any front of the house. I can understand that I may be a minority,but I enjoy engaging in conversation with staff, and they were very open and friendly to the point where I would of loved to pull up a chair and have them join us. Before leaving I had the opportunity to have my second kitchen tour of the night and meet Thomas as he and the staff were discussing the next days menu. He could not have been more gracious as we talked for fifteen to twenty minutes,and also was kind enough to take a photo with us. Keep in mind it had to be at least 1:00 a.m. at this time. A unheard of time for most chefs of this caliber to be in the kitchen. This truly was a meal of a lifetime that will never be forgotten. Robert